Sunday, 24 November 2013

Close but no cigar

I wanted to get out reasonably early so I could make it home for Ireland versus New Zealand rugby match at 2pm. I left Norwich at 8.30am, stopping briefly near Edgefield to watch this Red Kite.

Red Kite, Edgefield, Norfolk - 24th November 2013
I arrived at the Holt Country Park for a second stab at the Parrot Crossbills just after 9.30am and my luck was in because the flock was showing well atop one of the larches. A good crowd had gathered and decent views of the birds were had by all. Photos were never going to be anything other than record shots but at least you can see the heavy bill and broad neck on this female.

Female Parrot Crossbill, Holt CP, Norfolk - 24th November 2013
So that's three species of Crossbill ticked in the UK this year. Identification of these ones was a little more straightforward than the Two-barred Crossbills from a few weeks ago. Eventually the flock took flight, I reckoned at least ten birds present and great to hear their disticntive calls as they flew over. Brought me back to last August in Kolka, Latvia where I had seen my first ever Parrot Crossbills.
With the Crossbills taken care of by 10.30am, I needed to decide on my next move. I drove over to the car park at Cley coastguards, intending to check what was out on the sea. En route I briefly stopped at the Cley visitor centre, but nothing caught my eye in the log. At coastguards the sea was rough and the wind straight into my face. I wasn't prepared to do a sea-watch, so I decided to drive over to Titchwell where several Twite had been reported along the beach. I checked Wells harbour along the way in case the northerly wind had pushed any decent grebes or sea duck into the sheltered inlet, but nothing was doing there.
Keeping an eye on the time, I headed straight from the carpark at Titchwell to the beach, stopping only briefly to look for Bramblings on the visitor centre feeders. This male was the only one I saw.

Male Brambling, RSPB Titchwell, Norfolk - 24th November 2013
Once I reached the beach I started walking west. However I met a couple coming in the opposite direction who told me they had been further on and had no Snow Buntings or Twite at all. I hadn't time to keep walking so I decided to re-trace my steps and see if there were any on the eastern side of the beach. I was in luck and managed to find a small flock of about seven Snow Bunting feeding along the edge of the sea wall. Unfortunately no sign of any Twite but the the Buntings were reasonably approachable and I managed few decent shots.

Snow Bunting, Titchwell beach, Norfolk - 24th November 2013
By now there was no way I was going to make it home for the 2pm kick-off. I decided to head up to Choseley Barns to look for Corn Buntings. As I sat in the car opposite the farm buildings having my lunch, a flock of finches flew into the hedgerow. It was a large flock and although I couldn't pick out any Corn Buntings in it, it must have been mostly Brambling with the odd Chaffinch thrown in. Don't think I've ever seen a flock of that many Bramblings away from continental europe.
Just as I was leaving the area I managed to find commentary of the Ireland / All Blacks match on the radio. As Ireland went 19-nil up I raced back to Norwich to see the game live. In case you don't know, in the dying seconds of the game, New Zealand scored a try to rob Ireland of their first ever win against the All Blacks in 108 years of trying. Close, as they say...........but no cigar!

Saturday, 16 November 2013

The At-las(t)

So its finally here, the long awaited BTO Atlas. Just received my copy this morning in the post. First of all a massive well done to everyone at BTO, a labour of love and surely the most relevant book about birds to be published for many a year. It'll be a fascinating read and in may parts a worrying one. But for the meantime I'm proud to have been able to contribute via my records and, if you don't mind me being a little self-indulgent, through my Firecrest photo on page 494.

My wife Polina has also had her excellent Brent Goose photo included on page 178. These particular ones were feeding on the low tide at the base of Dun Laoghaire East Pier in County Dublin, Ireland.

Now its time to start reading!

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Neither autumn or winter

There were some fine photos of the very obliging Grey Phalarope at Salthouse on the web. We arrived in the car park at around 8.30am but the bird had done the dreaded 'Friday night flit' and was nowhere to be seen. Such a pity. It kind of left us at a loose then, the only other bird of note at that stage was a Lapland Bunting at Winterton, but that was a bit far to drive for just a 'Lapper'. We decided to check Well's harbour for sea duck or grebes but apart from a small flock of dark-bellied Brents, it was quiet. We drove on along the north coast heading west. We stopped at Brancaster Staithe but could only see a few Turnstones, Black-headed Gulls and a Common Redshank. These Atlantic systems will need to be replaced by easterlies of some kind in order to push more wintering birds into the UK.
We continued on to RSPB Titchwell. My first visit to this fine reserve. I was expecting it to be really crowded and although it was busy, it certainly wasn't as bad as I expected. We walked first to the beach but were a little disappointed here. The board in reception said Red-necked Grebe, Long-tailed Duck and Velvet Scoter, but from the beach all we could see were gulls and cormorants. Possibly the retreating high tide had pushed the birds further out. Still, we had decent scope views of four Spotted Redshanks from along the path towards the beach as well as hearing two Cetti's Warblers.
On the way back we joined a small group of people watching a Short-eared Owl hunting out over the grazing meadow. Always a great bird to see and while it never came that close, it was a pleasure to watch it hunting so gracefully and to watch it preen on a distant fence post.

Short-eared Owl, RSPB Titchwell, Norfolk - 9th November 2013
So at last we had a decent bird to show for the day. After spending about an hour watching it, we headed back towards reception. At the feeders there was plenty of action, many Chaffinches and after a short time, I picked out a male and female Brambling. Probably my favourite finch species so I tried for a few shots although the light was poor and the birds just a little distant. Here's one of the female.

Brambling, RSPB Titchwell, Norfolk - 9th November 2013
Coming back out of the Titchwell reserve we turned off the A149 and drove up to a spot known for Corn Bunting. Sadly there were none present but a flock of at least ten Brambling suggests this could be a good winter for them and further photo opportunities may present themselves in the coming months.
All in all not a bad days birding, but it seems more like the end of the autumn rather than the start of the winter. Hopefully a change in the recent westerly weather systems will liven things up soon.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Two-barred Crossbill.....?

It was still blowing a strong wind out there this morning so I decided to stay away from the north coast and go inland in the hope of some shelter.
I had been to Lynford Arboretum in late July when the Two-barred Crossbills were first reported from there (see 'A second bite of the cherry'). But the male bird which is currently present looked very fine indeed and with a supporting cast of Hawfinch and Firecrest, I reckoned it would be as good a place to go as any.
Almost the second I arrived the male bird was showing well at the top of one of the larches near the entrance. I got a couple of  record shots before it and the Common Crossbills it was with took flight.

Two-barred Crossbill - or is it?
Having just compared the shots of this bird to those on-line of male TB Crossbills at Lynford, I can't help wondering now if this is a well marked male Common Crossbill. The wing-bars don't look as broad as photos I have seen on the web and the white on the tertials appears more like an even fringe rather than a white tip. In my humble, honest opinion, I don't think this is right for TB Crossbill!

Close-up of wing
With the Crossbills having left the area, I went looking for Hawfinches. I gave it a good hour but didn't see any. I joined a few other birders at a spot over looking a paddock where they are often seen but a female Bullfinch and several female type Common Crossbills were the closest we got.
I returned to the larches at the entrance in the hope of getting some further views of the TB Crossbill as well as maybe a Firecrest, but I was all out of luck.
With about one and half hours of decent light left, I decided to go over to the BTO Nunnery Lakes reserve in Thetford. A Ring Ouzel had been reported present about fifty yards from the hide and I thought it might be possible to get a photo.
I reached the spot at about 3.30pm. Dawn Balmer from the BTO was already present and pointed out the hawthorn where the bird had been last seen. We waited a short while before it popped out near the top feeding on berries. Views were a little distant but good enough for a record shot.

Female Ring Ouzel, Nunnery Lakes, Thetford, Norfolk
At almost 4pm, the sun dropped down below the horizon, the light had been good enough up to that point but it was now very weak. I wasn't going to get any better shots and was happy with my views of what is an excellent record for an inland site at this time of year.
I packed up and headed for home.
Opinions on the Crossbill are welcome!